The Folly of Breed-Specific Legislation

Posted by Dan Karney on Jul 20, 2012

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Earlier this month, despite desperate appeals to reverse his execution order, Lennox, a simple family dog from Belfast (UK) was killed (source).  The Belfast City Council (BCC) in Northern Ireland had condemned Lennox to death for the crime of resembling a pit bull.  The BCC’s justification was compliance with the “The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991”, which defines any dog deemed to have pit bull “characteristics”, as inherently dangerous and bred for fighting.  The law requires the seizure and destruction of such dogs.

The Order is an example of breed-specific legislation (BSL) in effect across many jurisdictions around the world.  Pit bulls often are the target of BSLs, but other breeds are affected too, such as Rottweilers and German Shepherds (source).  Many major cities in America have BSL that outlaw pit bulls, including Denver and Miami (source).  The idea behind BSL is to reduce dog bites and subsequent death in humans from these “dangerous” breeds.

Do these BSLs work?  The answer is no.  A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that reviewed a large sample of human dog bite-related fatalities over a 20-year period found, “Although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates.”  In other words, it is a common misperception that pit bulls are inherently more dangerous than other dogs.  Furthermore, analyses of specific BSLs find them to be ineffective, such is the case of the pit bull ban in Prince George’s County, MD (source).

In fact, all BSLs do is punish law-abiding citizens with harmless companion animals, as in the case of Lennox.  Criminals use pit bulls for fighting, but that is neither the fault of those dogs specifically, nor the breed in general.  Instead of BSLs, experts recommend breed-neutral legislation that focus on the deeds instead of breeds, as well as preventative measures such as mandatory spaying/neutering and compulsory leash laws  (source).  Poorly socialized, vicious dogs do exist and need to be taken seriously, but steps should be taken to protect the public in accordance with breed-neutral laws already on the books.

Finally, on a personal note, my partner and I have two beautiful pit bull mixes.  Lucy and Emmy are two wonderful and loving ladies.  Every once in a while, they steal food from the table, but then again what dog doesn’t?!